Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Typical Libertarian Silliness - Wendy McElroy wants to privatize the marriage contract. At first, she seems to be almost making sense. Fewer people are getting married, divorce is up, and marriage is something of an archaic institution. Maybe she's right, maybe a "one size fits all" marriage contract just doesn't work anymore. But then she keeps talking, and it all falls apart.

She's suggesting a system where every couple that gets married has to negotiate the terms of their divorce before they've even spoken their vows. A lot of couples can barely make it past cummerbunds vs. vests, and she wants to throw a contract negotiation in the mix. Here's another thought that might not have occurred to Ms. McElroy: if fear of divorce is a major reason for the decline of marriage, forcing every engaged couple to confront the legalistic reality of divorce before they can even get married is not going to help. Reason three: Lawyers. It took quite a bit of shopping around to find a divorce lawyer who would draw up the necessary papers for less than $1,000. I can only imagine what would happen if every single couple had to negotiate a contract before they could go to the altar.

On a purely practical note, if you think not enough people are doing X, then creating a system that makes it more difficult and more expensive to do X is not likely to fix the problem.

On a psychological note, McElroy, along with most of the other folks I've read on the topic, seems to think that the decision to wed is a rational one. It's not. The decision to jump out of an airplane is, by comparison, much more rational. After all, you've read articles, seen the statistics, and you know that your parachute will catch you and that you'll reach the ground safely. It's just that your gut tells you that jumping out of a plane is crazy. In marriage, it's the other way around, your gut (or other body part, sometimes) dragging you into something your brain tells you has, at best, a 50/50 shot of succeeding.

And people who avoid marriage out of fear of divorce are probably not scared for their pocketbook, as McElroy suggests. The best, most friendly and compassionate divorce still sucks because you're losing your spouse and you're breaking a vow, which means you're also having to come up with a new concept of who you yourself are. When I told people I was getting divorced, not a single person said, "Wow, I bet that's going to be expensive." Anyone who would say something like that is not the kind of person I have as a friend. Is McElroy that kind of person? I hope not, but if I had to judge merely from this article, I'd guess yes. On the other hand, she might be perfect for this guy.

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